The suggestion was made some time ago (GeoWeb 2007) that the Internet virtual world "Second Life" was a good metaphor for GIS futures, and we should look more to the games world than we have in the past. Clearly this insight was very much "on the money".
The increasing concern about physical infrastructure redevelopment in North America and Europe, and the need to rapidly and efficiently construct new infrastructure (homes, highways, transit, and utilities) in the rest of the world, is giving rise to new ideas about the integration of CAD, BIM and GIS. The central thesis of this integration push is that the current process is hopeless inefficient and wasteful, and does not properly take into account the existing environment when new infrastructure projects (e.g. a new building) are under taken. An integrated view of these things would allow the creation and maintenance of persistent information models that would get created when the buildings were designed, and would be maintained and enhanced as the building was developed and went through its life cycle. Each such model would just fit into the information model for the entire cityscape, enhancing and extending it. More than just "eye candy", such models would serve a multitude of purposes including crime deterrence, noise mitigation, energy conservation, zoning, security, disaster response planning, and all forms of city planning.
The major search engines such as Google and Microsoft clearly have a stake in this too, and have already enable the creation of 3D building models through tools like Sketchup (Google), and the proposed PhotoSynthesis (Microsoft) technology. So far, these models have largely been "eye candy", however, the linking of these models to formal built infrastructure models is now underway and will give rise to the sort of 3D virtual world discussed in the paragraph above. City planners, engineers and developers will use environments like Google and Microsoft to display and share model visualizations and to allow groups of people and organizations to interact with one another and the virtual model of the world. Urban planners can show how a new streetscape will look, and citizens can walk around in it and offers comment and feedback. Engineers can use these models to investigate different design approaches and construction techniques.
None of this very far in the future. Engineering companies like Parsons-Brinkerhoff are already using 3D simulation models to help visualize and enable decision making in complex construction projects. cityGML and Google Earth are already being employed (see http://www.citygml.org/) for modeling, visualizing and navigating hundreds of thousands of buildings in Berlin and other German cities.
A key element to add to this vision is that of gaming – meaning the ability to simulate and to interact with the 3D world in the same manner as one interacts with the real world – with the same physical constraints and dynamics. This approach has been long explored in the gaming world to get realistic behaviour for gamers. We see it being employed in our fused world of BIM-CAD-GIS to provide interactivity for navigation, design and enhanced understanding.
When you think GeoWeb – think of going to "Second Life" – think of wondering around in a dimensionally accurate model of the world – that is current and changes as the world changes – and that reflects the real world – physically and politically. We have a ways to go – but such a target is clearly in reach.